Last week, Sen. Ted Cruz tried to cast fellow senator and presidential candidate Marco Rubio as soft on immigration.
Now, Rubio is going after Cruz for what he says was the Texan’s support for congressional action that weakened the U.S. government’s ability to conduct surveillance for intelligence gathering, particularly to combat terrorism.
Rubio, of Florida, said that the USA Freedom Act, which he voted against and Cruz voted for, compromised the security of the United States by curtailing its intelligence-gathering powers, according to Roll Call.
The measure called for doing away with federal bulk collection of telephone records, among other things.
“I think it’s a distinctive issue of debate in the presidential race,” Rubio said at a New York forum on Monday. “At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to the presidency — Sen. [Ted] Cruz in particular — have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence programs just in the last month-and-a-half.”
Besides Rubio, other Republicans who voted against the measure were Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Sen. Rand Paul, both of Kentucky. Paul is also running for president.
Rubio, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee, is pushing for technology companies to help break encryption, believed to have been a way that terrorists in the recent Paris carnage communicated while developing their plans for the attack, Roll Call reported.
In a statement to Fox News Latino, Cruz's staff dismissed Rubio's targeting of the Texas lawmaker as a desperate attempt to score points in his quest for the GOP presidential nomination.
"This is no more than an attempt by the Rubio campaign to pivot away from the growing attention being paid to his support for amnesty," said a source who asked to identified only as a Cruz advisor, "and doing so by reminding voters that Cruz supported a security bill extremely popular among Americans - that effectively protects both our national security and Americans' right to privacy."
The Cruz advisor added: "Cruz was joined by Sens. Lee, Grassley and Scott in supporting the bill and several of Rubios own endorsers, including Rep. Daines, Gardner and Pompeo also voted for it."
Rubio said that the United States must have every arsenal at its disposal for keeping Americans safe.
“The No. 1 obligation of the federal government is to provide for the national security of the United States,” Rubio said. “If someone in the federal government is found abusing these programs and these authorities, they should be fired and prosecuted for having done so. That said, we need to have real-time access to any actionable intelligence that will allow us to save Americans’ lives.”
Many opponents of broadening surveillance powers by the federal government worried about the impact on the privacy of U.S. citizens. Rubio said there was no basis for that concern.
“That’s not happening, but we need to have access to this information in order to save lives, especially in an exigent circumstance,” Rubio said, according to Roll Call. “This is a unique threat.”